Yet Another Gay Teen Suicide, This Time in Michigan

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 21, 2010

A gay teenaged college student at Oakland University in Michigan has killed himself. Authorities say there is no evidence that the student suffered anti-gay bullying.

Corey Jackson, 19, evidently hanged himself on Oct. 19. An Oct. 20 story at Detroit news station WDIV said that the medical examiner's office of Oakland County had determined that Corey's death was a suicide. His body was found in a wooded area of the university campus, an Oct. 20 article in local newspaper the Oakland Press said. The university's large campus includes land in two communities, Auburn Hills and Rochester Hills. The school is a major research university, according to a Wikipedia article.

In recent weeks a spate of teen suicides has sparked renewed conversation around anti-gay bullying and safe schools. At least nine teens have killed themselves recently after enduring anti-gay abuse, in some cases for years on end.

"We have no indication that bullying-type activity was occurring," said the university campus police chief, Sam Lucido. "We have talked with two people--one who was a student--who were close to Corey Jackson and they have said that was not an issue."

Jackson was a fraternity member, the article said. He belonged to Tau Kappa Epsilon. The article noted that Jackson's death took place the day before Spirit Day, observed Oct. 20, on which supporters wore purple items of clothing to memorialize victims of the ongoing rash of gay teen suicides that have made headlines recently.

A gay fellow student, Nicholas Brewer, told the media that although his home town of Detroit "isn't the easiest place to be gay," but that, "I was fortunate enough to have the support and love that has kept me happy and alive to find out that it does in fact get better."

Zac Willockx told the newspaper that Sprit Day "was going to be a good, but [Jackson's suicide] hit so close to home. It's sad. Everyone is still in shock." The freshman added that bullying might have been a factor in Jackson's death: "I don't know if there has to be much bullying for someone to do something like that. It could be like self-imposed feelings because you have been told since birth you should be one way."

"Any death in the campus community diminishes us all," a statement written by the university's president, Gary Russi, said. "We know there will be no quick antidote for the pain that Corey's sudden death has caused, and that only time can heal the sorrow felt by his family and friends. In our mourning, I am hopeful that we will not focus on the manner of Corey's death, but rather celebrate the life he lived and the people he touched."

The statement referenced a vigil that was planned for 10:00 p.m. on the evening of Oct. 20. Local businesses provided hundreds of candles for the vigil, a separate Oct. 20 Oakland Press article reported.

"He was like a brother to me," friend Justine Roy told the newspaper. "I had just heard from him Monday night when he texted me, telling me he loved me, which I didn't think anything of since it was a common occurrence. He and I had plans to go to dinner tonight, and we had been planning a much anticipated trip to the cider mill. It's all so surreal."

"I'm not sure what was going in Corey's life to make him do this, but coming from another college student, I'd think just life itself," said another friend, Ashley Ross. "Everything changes so fast, and you go from having no worries to just about every kind of worry." Added Ross, "He just knew how to make people smile and laugh, and every time you were around him, you felt warm and loved."

"A major priority of ours always," said the university's director of media relations, Ted Montgomery, "is that, if you need help or know someone who needs help, please contact us. Students and faculty are here to help, and we can't help unless we know about it."

Ongoing Rash of Teen Suicides

Nationally, children as young as 11 have committed suicide in recent years, after having endured relentless bullying at school. The bullying often takes the form of anti-gay taunts and harassment, even when the children being bullied are not gay. Groups such as the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) seek to provide educational materials in order to promote a safe learning environment in the schools, but surveys conducted by GLSEN indicate that there is still a high rate of anti-gay harassment in American schools.

In two separate incidents in different parts of the country, two youths, both 15 years old, hanged themselves after enduring anti-gay bullying at school. A news anchor at a CBS affiliate WCCO in Anoka, Minnesota, reported on Sept. 13 on the hanging death of 15-year old Justin Aaberg, a student in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, who had come out as gay two years earlier and endured anti-gay harassment at school.

On Sept. 9--two months to the day after Tammy Aaberg found her son dead in his bedroom--a mother in Indiana found her 15-year-old son, Billy Lucas, dead in the family's barn, where he had hanged himself. Billy had suffered ongoing--and worsening--anti-gay harassment, even though he never said he was gay. But other students assumed that he was, and taunted him for it, reported Fox news station WXIN in Indianapolis on Sept. 13.

In Texas, Asher Brown, 13, was bullied at two different schools before he shot himself with his stepfather's gun on Sept. 23. His parents said that despite their efforts to get school administrators to intervene, their son suffered "relentless" bullying because he dressed differently. Asher's parents said that he came out to them as gay shortly before he killed himself.

California youth Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself from a tree in his family's back yard on Sept. 19. He was taken to the hospital where he spent over a week in intensive care before dying on Sept. 27. According to his friends, Seth had been targeted for bullying and harassment because he was gay. The boy's friends also told the news channel that the school's staff and administration had not intervened on behalf of the boy.

A spate of suicides claimed victims as young as eleven last year. Georgia fifth-grader Jeheem Herrera hanged himself in April of 2009 after enduring anti-gay abuse at school. Herrera's mother told the media that when she asked a friend of her son's about the suicide, the friend said to her, "He told me that he's tired of everybody always messing with him in school." The friend added, "He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself."

Herrera's death followed the April 6, 2009, hanging death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in Massachusetts. Walker-Hoover suffered anti-gay taunts at school despite his mother's reported "weekly" attempts to get the school's administration to intervene.

The rate of suicides among teenagers is higher for GLBT youths, according to a U. S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Recent efforts to counter the higher rate of LGBT youth suicide include "It Gets Better," a project launched by gay writer Dan Savage that collects videos of gay adults addressing teens with a message of hope: no matter how miserable high school may be, it's worth surviving into adulthood, when gay youths can claim their full potential and thrive in happy relationships.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.